Albert moves into 10th on all-time list; Ortiz oldest player to reach 30 blasts
By Richard Justice
First Albert Pujols, then David Ortiz. Two majestic home runs, two moments to savor and celebrate, eight minutes apart Wednesday night. Two opportunities to be reminded how lucky we've been to watch these guys play baseball. Sometimes, the baseball gods deliver more than we deserve.
We see them now, Ortiz, 40, and Pujols, 36, and are awash in memories of postseason heroics and times when they held their cities -- and their sport -- in the palm of their hands.
They've helped define baseball in so many ways, and now they're at a special point in their careers -- Pujols in his 16th season, Ortiz in his 20th and final one -- where almost every hit carves out a bit more history and further defines their greatness.
So it was on Wednesday.
In the top of the first inning in Toronto, Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada got an 86-mph cutter down in the strike zone. Down but not down enough. That's Pujols' wheelhouse, and his swing looked nearly effortless as the baseball soared toward left-center field, clearing the wall by a few feet.
This is one Pujols is likely to remember long after he's done. It was the 584th of his career and pushed him past friend and former teammate Mark McGwire and alone in 10th place on the all-time list.
Pujols' teammates had just finished their celebration when, 1,100 miles away in St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Andriese threw Ortiz a first-pitch curveball with a runner on base in the top of the first at Tropicana Field.
It was as if Ortiz had spent the entire day planning for the pitch. He leaned into it and launched it comfortably toward right field for his 30th home run of the season, a moonshot that landed well past leaping Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr.
Ortiz pointed skyward as he crossed home plate and prepared to greet his teammates in the visiting dugout. He's the oldest player in history -- 40 years, 9 months, 6 days -- to hit 30 home runs. He also crossed the 100-RBI threshold.
Ortiz is the only player in baseball with four straight 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons and has 10 in all. Here's the list of players with as many 30-100 seasons with one team: Babe Ruth (12 times), Lou Gehrig (10 times), Hank Aaron (10 times) and Pujols (10 times).
That Pujols and Ortiz delivered these milestones on a single night feels right. They are two of the faces of the game and two players who define greatness. Years from now, these are players we will tell younger fans they should have seen.
Between them, Ortiz and Pujols have 1,117 home runs, 20 All-Star appearances and five championships (Ortiz three, Pujols two).
Pujols won the National League Most Valuable Player Award three times during 11 seasons with the Cardinals. Ortiz has never won an American League MVP Award, but he had a remarkable stretch of five straight top-five finishes in the balloting.
Both of them have been at their best when the lights are brightest. Ortiz has a .455 batting average in 14 World Series games. Pujols has a .323 batting average and 19 home runs in 77 postseason games.
For Pujols, it was particularly meaningful to pass McGwire on the all-time list. They were teammates for just one season (2001) in St. Louis, but they have long admired one another.
In that first season when Pujols was a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster, McGwire said his stomach occasionally was in knots as he rooted for his young teammate.
During his time in St. Louis, Pujols led the Majors with 445 home runs, 455 doubles and 1,329 RBIs. He had a 1.037 OPS, second only to Barry Bonds (1.262).
Pujols' teammates remembered both his relentless work ethic and the precision with which he approached at-bats. Some players would arrive three hours before game time to find him, drenched in sweat, having already spent two hours lifting weights and punishing baseballs in an indoor batting cage.
They marveled that Pujols never seemed uncomfortable at home plate, that his swing was so automatic that he almost never lunged at pitches or seemed off balance. In that way, he controlled at-bats regardless of the count.
Ortiz will be forever remembered as one of the players who helped change the way we think of the Red Sox. That 2004 championship -- the first in 86 years for the Red Sox -- may forever be the seminal moment in the city's sports history.
Ortiz also became the face of an entire city in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings when he took the microphone during a ceremony at Fenway Park and said, in part, "This is our [bleepin'] city."
Ortiz insists that a season in which he's hitting .322 and making a run at his first AL MVP Award will be his last regardless of how it works out. Pujols has five years remaining on his contract with the Angels.
So Ortiz could be in the Hall of Fame by the time Pujols plays his last game. At some point, though, they'll both be there. Those home runs on Wednesday were a reminder of that. And more.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.